The United States Department of Justice is suing the city of Ferguson, Mo. for refusing to comply with its reforms for the city’s justice system.
The lawsuit was filed on Feb. 9 after the Ferguson City Council voted to alter the reforms that were issued months earlier, according to CNN.
“The residents of Ferguson have suffered the deprivation of their constitutional rights, the rights guaranteed to all Americans, for decades,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a formal statement from Washington. “They have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer.”
The reforms would cost Ferguson, which is already running a multimillion-dollar deficit, a total of $3.7 million, according to St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Though the impending lawsuit will cost the city millions of dollars, it would still cost Ferguson less than if it was to agree to the police reforms, according to The New York Times.
“There’s no point in agreeing to something we can’t afford,” James Knowles III, mayor of Ferguson, said in an interview with The Times.
The Department of Justice’s decision to sue Ferguson has sparked a broad range of reactions from both current and former students at John Brown University. Ryan McCall, a former student at the University, believes that the city council was right to reject police reforms, given the financial state of the city.
“If Ferguson truly can’t afford this, it will have to raise taxes on the citizens,” McCall said. “If they raise taxes on the citizens, these neighborhoods, which are already bad off, are just going to get worse because the people can’t afford the taxes that are on them.”
Ferguson, which has a per capita income of $20,472, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, could suffer from an imposed tax increase to pay for the police reforms. Either way, the city could suffer financially as both the reforms and the lawsuit cost millions of dollars.
Celeste Lindsey, freshman art and illustration major, agreed with the Department of Justice’s decision, but also mentioned a few possible alternatives to a lawsuit. Among those that Lindsey mentioned were financial assistance from the state of Missouri and going through the process of firing all questionable police officers.
“There are other routes that can be taken without financially draining the already bankrupt Ferguson,” Lindsey said.
Zach Bower, sophomore biblical and theological studies major, echoed Lindsey’s sentiments. He pointed out that so far, neither party has taken steps that would reform the police while keeping Ferguson financially stable.
“I can’t pick a side because I don’t feel like anyone has come up with a good plan yet,” Bower said. “It’s just been like, ‘Reform.’ ‘We can’t afford it.’ ‘Well, we’re making you reform anyway.’ No one has come up with a plan to do anything.”
Regardless of which side they are on, students all agreed that the Ferguson Police Department needs an overhaul.
“The problem is that Ferguson needs reform, but the city doesn’t have the money to do it,” Bower said.
The proposed reforms lay out specific guidelines for improving the Ferguson Police Department. The reforms were proposed in March 2015, and resulted from an investigation that was triggered by the trial of white police officer, Darren Wilson, after he shot the black teenager, Michael Brown. The report revealed racial profiling against the city’s black residents and racist jokes within the police force’s ranks. Such compelling findings urged the Department of Justice to issue police reforms for Ferguson.
These reforms would institutionalize practices aimed at preventing racial profiling by the city’s police force. They included hiring additional senior staff to carry out the deal, the enforcement of more comprehensive training, an early intervention system and an electronic complaint tracking system.